The Design of Wizards of Unica

As we move forward it is time to go into a deeper detail about the design of Wizards of Unica and finalize the various game mechanics. This is the first post of a serie of article that will accompany us for several months while Daniele and I refine and finalize the gameplay of our game, and the starting point are WoU’s Design Goals.

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When I drafted the concept of “Wizards’ Duel” back in the day, my goals were to finish it in 7 days and experiment with a Progress/Experience System that didn’t use experience points and levels. In a typical game jam fashion I wanted to concentrate on a single aspect and explore its potential.

In this case, after finishing every area, the player would have had access to a new spell and new spell combos to tackle ever stronger enemies up to the final confrontation with her nemesis.

Two goals that sort of followed were replayability and gameplay-oriented narrative. The former in that you couldn’t access all the spells in one play (you and your nemesis were competing on the limited number of spirits at your disposal) and the latter in the form of a very vague premise in order to enable the player to create her own story (two wizards fighting each other for their own motives). A third goal was to push the ASCII/ANSI aesthetic to create something that would have been nice looking but still in touch with the root of the genre (and take very little time).

A cemetery in the mids of the Whisper Ruins

A cemetery in the middle of the Whisper Ruins

In summary I had two gameplay goals and two aesthetic goals:

  1. Progress/Experience System based on gameplay achievements.
  2. Focus on replayability.
  3. Story light, narrative heavy.
  4. ANSI graphics, illustrative but flavorful.

Plus two constraints:

  1. One week deadline.
  2. Spend little time on presentation and a lot of time on the gameplay.

The result was a concept were the player had to traverse different and procedurally generated areas (flavor, replayability) and fight bosses to obtain new spells (progress, narrative) in a race against an enemy that was eroding your resources (replayability, narrative). The idea was for the player to develop an antipathy for her nemesis as she was “stealing” spells and areas for the player to access, leading to an ever different climax.

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The attempt was unsuccessful because of the time constraint and a bug that took me way to long to figure out, but the idea looked really nice on paper and I shared it with my friends.

When I moved into creating a full game and joined up with Daniele the goals and scope had to change and be refined. We kept the core gameplay goals, but we already knew we needed to expand them to have a full-fledged game, graduating from the “vertical” design of a game jam to a more “organic” set of features to keep the player engaged.

On the other hand, having more time and a true artistic direction we could strive for more on the aesthetic department, enabling the game to reach for a wider audience. Daniele studied and created a compelling design for the game while keeping it as functional as possible. Meanwhile he shifted the focus from narrative to story (you only had a glimpse of this, but he is also a great storyteller).

Concept of an area: the Fiery Pit

Concept of an area: the Fiery Pit

Also, our constraints changed. I was adamant in keeping the project an hobby instead of aiming for a side-job (of course it is true only to a certain extent) but now we had time, which is a huge asset. We still weren’t working with a budget, but for a passion project we had enough to start.

With the design goals refined we were ready to begin our project. These goals are:

  1. Progress/Experience System based on gameplay achievements (explore a different mechanics from most roguelikes/RPGs).
  2. Replayability (engage players in exploring all the game has to offer).
  3. Focus on tactical gameplay and fairness (engage players in challenging the game).
  4. Emergent gameplay (engage players in exploring the game mechanics).
  5. Compelling story (engage players in exploring the story).
  6. Modern and flavorful presentation (engage the players looking for an aesthetically pleasing experience).

With the constraints of working without a budget and trying to keep it simple enough to not intrude too much with our lives.

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Before closing, you may have noticed my use of the word “engagement”. This is actually a very important topic. Sometimes a designer starts with an idea for a mechanic or for a story to tell and then they grow a game around these. I believe it is important for designers to make the effort to always think about the different forms of player engagement when thinking about features and design goals.

Thanks for reading.

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